Serves me right for saying that building your own clubs is easy and rewarding. Immediately I saw a slew of postings and E-mail with the following patterns:
"I once made a clone club. It was a real clunker, heavy and clumsy. I've concluded that all homemade clones (maybe all clones) are clunkers. I'll only use name brands from now on."

"I bought a club from a custom clubmaker, using the best [popular model here] shaft and clubhead. It came out so light I can't swing it. What should I do, and how could it have come out badly with good, expensive components like that?"

"I bought a [brand name, popular model] driver. It's my first graphite shaft. Now, whenever it's important to get a good drive, I hit nothing but high slices. What's wrong? I'll never use a graphite shaft again."

This was about 1993, and it gave me pause. How come none of these matches my experience with clubmaking? As of that day, I could only remember two "clunker" clubs I had made: one was one of my first three, and the other was deliberately experimental. Have I just been lucky? Am I encouraging fellow Internetters to waste their money and time?

I mentally went over the clubs I'd made in the past six years, and noticed something interesting: After my first three clubs (a wedge, a driver, and a putter), I spent a lot of time poring over catalogs, measuring existing clubs, and even doing calculations before ordering the components. This undoubtedly stems from my engineering background and my own tendency to "design first, then measure twice to cut once."

But I'm convinced that it also warded off "the clunkers". All the clubs since the first three have generated reactions ranging from "this feels right; my old clubs didn't" to "this is great; can you make me one like it."

How come? Well, my first consideration was not what the club looked like. The "clones" try to sell themselves on the basis that they look like a popular model. But I've seen different companies' Ping clone heads that cosmetically resembled Pings, but differed (from the Ping and among themselves) in the much more important characteristics like weight, loft, and sole shape. No wonder selecting a club based on looks results in a high percentage of clunkers.

Instead, I concentrate on finding out as much as I can about the game and the frame of the golfer for whom I'm making the clubs. I think about what I'm trying to accomplish, and choose the components accordingly. This may not be as much fun as making something that looks exactly like a Taylor-Made RAC... until the golfer gets them to the course. Then the accuracy of cloning the "look" will matter less than the accuracy of matching the club to the golfer's game and frame.

Fast-forward to 2017! This "web book" records the criteria I use in designing golf clubs. I started it in the mid-1990s as text files on a "bulletin board" computer at Princeton (part of the archives), and have maintained and occasionally updated it ever since. My motivation at the time was mostly selfish; I would no longer have to compose the answer to the same question over and over. The e-book of text files became a web site around 2000, and the site started around 2004.

My design approach isn't a step-by-step design method; I don't think that exists. But if you understand the material here, and apply it to the most critical characteristics of the clubs you try to build, you're going to make very few clunkers.

In the centerfold of the 1998 GolfWorks catalog, attached to the order form, is a form that says, "Planning to buy new clubs? We'll give you a free fitting via FAX." It then has a half-page questionnaire that they consider sufficient to make a recommendation about what to look for in a club that matches you. While I wouldn't ask exactly the same questions -- indeed, I don't trust the whole concept of "fitting by mail" -- I'd like to mention what they are to start you thinking about what is important in designing a set of clubs:

  • When you hit a poor drive, do you have a specific tendency to:
    (top it, sky it, hit it very low, pull it, hook it, push it, slice it, straight but unsolid hit, very inconsistent, don't know)?
  • What is your confidence level with the driver?
  • How far does your average drive carry (no roll included)?
    (up to 135, 136-170, 171-210, 211-245, 246 and up)
  • When you hit a poor iron shot, do you have a specific tendency to:
    (same list as driver)?
  • What is the longest iron you hit with confidence?
  • On what part of the clubface do you tend to hit the ball?
    (Toe, heel, center)
  • What best describes the direction you hit with woods and irons?
    (Slice, push, straight, pull, hook)
  • What is your golf glove size?
  • From your own point of view, what do you want from the new clubs?
    (Hit the ball higher, hit the ball lower, stop slicing, stop pushing the ball, stop hooking, stop pulling the ball, hit the ball straighter, hit the ball longer.)
  • Shaft material (preferred, and currently using)?
  • What is your current club model, size, and shaft flex?
In my opinion, this is a good starting point. I'd add questions about your physical measurements, swing plane, how often you play, etc. And I miss in this list two of the most important considerations: how often do you practice, and do you take lessons. Personally, I believe it's hard to get a full idea of what the golfer needs without actually watching him or her hit golf balls, at least on the driving range and preferably while trying to score on the golf course. But by all means remember that a very important consideration is: what is the golfer using now, and what sort of shot does he do with those clubs? That's an essential -- and too often overlooked -- part of clubfitting.

Here's another shortcoming of the fitting by mail. The set of questions is fixed. But every time I fit a golfer, the answer to one of the standard questions will lead to another question, one that isn't on the form and may be more important than any that are on the form.

Anyway, you should get the idea that this e-book on the design parameters of golf clubs will suggest how to match the clubs to the golfer. Ignore the considerations herein, and you will have your share of clunkers.

What follows reflects my belief that the most important things about a club are:

  • The right set makeup. Driver? Maybe. Where do irons change into hybrids or lofted fairway woods? How many wedges? Things like that.
  • Length and lie to match the golfer's size and swing plane. Length is something you need to design in; lie can be tweaked after the clubs are built.
  • "Heft" factors: swingweight and club moment of inertia.
  • "Flex" factors: shaft flex, flex profile, and torque.
  • Whether the clubhead is a blade or a cavity-back.
  • Grip size -- and is the grip in good condition.
  • Everything else is way less important.
The "book" is divided into three parts:

1. The Basics

  • This introduction.
  • Physical principles - reviews a few concepts from physics before we start: centrifugal force, torque, moment of inertia, vibrational frequency, and what about a club makes a golf ball go far.
  • The swing - This applies the physics to a few fundamental golf questions, such as: Where does the power come from in the swing to generate clubhead speed? How does impact convert the clubhead characteristics and clubhead velocity into launch conditions like ball speed, launch angle, and spin? How do launch conditions translate to trajectory and distance?

2. Whole-Club Measures
These are the characteristics of the club that are not limited to a single measurement of a single component, but rather require fitting a combination of properties of the shaft and head to the golfer.

  • Length - how long should you make the club, and what are the design problems a nonstandard length gives you?
  • Lie Angle - what clubhead lie angle will result in a level head at impact?
  • Heft (swingweight and moment of inertia) - what it is, how to estimate it from your design, how to measure it in a finished club, how to change it, and matching it across your set.
  • Shaft flex - how to select it, how to change it, and matching it across your set.

3. Customizing the Clubs
OK, now we have the gross parameters of the clubs for a golfer. Let's get down to specific components, clubs, and golfers.

Many of these sections discuss things that a clubfitter must consider when fitting a golfer for clubs -- things like shaft flex, swingweight, etc. For each of these, I try to touch on:

  • What is it?
  • What does it do for performance? For feel? (Note that performance and feel are two different things.)
  • How do you measure the golfer for it? (This is the fitting process.)
  • How do you measure the club for it?
  • How do you adjust it to be what you want, in a club you're building or an existing club you're modifying?

I hope this information helps you and those who use the clubs you make as much as it has helped me, my family and friends, and a lot of clubmakers who have learned from these Design Notes.

Last modified May 24, 2017